Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mario Diaz de Leon - Enter Houses Of (2009)

| Avant-Garde | Contemporary Classical | Electroacoustic |

"The album is sealed by “Gated Eclipse”. The pedestrian dulcis in fundo commonplace would be appropriate enough, hadn’t the excellence of the preceding material already alerted about this man’s potential. A complex combination of effective sharpness and poignant stability is generated by a magnificent sextet – flute, clarinet, piano, percussion, violin and cello – tuning the music to impenetrable auras while leaving us catch a vague glimpse of superior levels of understanding."
-Touching Extremes

".....this disc has especially stood out for me in the way it fires my imagination and how frequently I replay it. Sure, the compositions are fascinating, painting in big aural strokes and melding major electronic ideas and acoustic performances with an assured hand. And the musicians—all ICE players—turn in the kind of technically and artistically daring performances on which the ensemble built its reputation. But there is something elusive in the "man and machine" conversation inside this music that digs its claws deep into the ear and invites repeat visits."
-New Music Box

"exquisite, extraordinarily visceral experience, a statement of all the tonal and atonal possibilities of sound that still go untapped by the majority of other modern composers. Diaz de Leon's work, in contrast, is bracing and invigorating, a study in harsh beauty that broadens the horizons of classical composition."
-Impose Magazine

Catalog: #8065 (Tzadik)
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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

John Zorn - The Bribe (1998)

| Avant-Garde | Experimental Rock | Avant-Jazz |
| Post-Bop | Fusion Jazz |

John Zorn's Bribe is a continuation and extension of his album Spillane. Like its predecessor, this album features almost the same lineup of extraordinary NYC improvisers including pianist Anthony Coleman, drummer Bobby Previte, organist Wayne Horvitz, turntablist Christian Marclay, and harpists Zeena Parkins and Carol Emanuel. Unlike the fast-spliced pace of Spillane, which functioned as its own narrative, the music on Bribe is allowed to stretch and develop because it was composed as a background for the dialogue in three 30-minute radio plays by Terry O'Reilly (it was later adapted to a stage production). O'Reilly described his creation as "low art; " along the lines of little respected categories such as pulp fiction and B-movies. Zorn then constructed appropriate music, continually switching styles and filling it with pop references.

The overall mood of Bribe is also different from Spillane and much of Zorn's work (excluding Film Works, Vol. 7), in that it maintains a light-hearted approach, weaving music box chimes and carnival sounds into the music. A nicer mood pervades this release, yet given its kaleidoscopic and slightly demented tone, it certainly can't be described as relaxed. Then again, maybe "relaxed" isn't too far off, after all -- perhaps by playing a supporting role to the production's cast instead of driving the concept, the musicians were able to enjoy themselves a little more.

Catalog: TZ 7320 (Tzadik)
Album Overview on Allmusic

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John Zorn - Godard/Spillane (1999)

| Avant-Garde | Experimental | Avant-Jazz |Post-Bop|
| Experimental Rock | Musique Concrètre |

"Godard" and "Spillane" were the two first (and purest) examples of the "file card" composition technique developed by John Zorn and inspired by theater director Richard Foreman. The compositions were constructed from independent scraps of music inscribed on file cards; the two principal works here called for assembly of the cards ("Spillane" used 60 cards within roughly 25 minutes) to create compositions within the conceptual frame of work by Mickey Spillane and Jean-Luc Godard. The goal was to translate imagery from Godard's films and Spillane's crime novels (and probably the films based on those novels) into unified compositions. Bits of text weave through musical fragments including gentle lounge piano, spacy electronic music, violent sonic crashes, and dive-bar jazz. Ironically, "Godard" and "Spillane" both work as unified compositions because they are made of fragments. The ideas of the filmmaker and the writer would have been too complex to be tackled by an overblown, operatic score; such a work could only scratch the surface of a few of their ideas without seeming disjointed. But Zorn's file card snippets bounce around like thoughts, overlapping and intruding on each other, reversing direction like a changed mind. Careful selection and arrangement make all the snippets seem essential and irreplaceable, despite their remarkable diversity.

This album's execution is aided by a truly impressive cast of supporting musicians, whose close relationships with Zorn made it possible for the musical nuances to be communicated through interpersonal interaction. As a result, every piece sounds like a pure fragment of its genre instead of mere imitation. Perhaps most impressive were the contributions of Anthony Coleman and Bill Frisell, both of whom wrenched an amazing variety of sounds from their instruments. This collection, issued by Tzadik in 1999, also contains a delightful Christmas song, "Blues Noël," which applies the file card method in a much shorter, but charming, piece.

Catalog: TZ 7324 (Tzadik)
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Monday, July 26, 2010

John Zorn - Music Romance Vol.2: Taboo And Exile (1999)

| Avant-Garde | Jazz Fusion | Chamber Jazz |
| Avant-Classical | Experimental Rock | Avant-Jazz |

Like the first volume of the series, Music Romance, Volume Two: Taboo and Exile deals with issues of lost innocence. The first of the Music Romance series had more overt references to childhood, with lengthy literary references and a title which gave it all away: Music for Children. Here the images are a little bit more subtle and a lot darker. The outer sleeve is black, with ritual objects represented in the fiery colors of orange and red. The liner notes contain a photo of poppies as well as more ritual objects, including one which seems to be bathed in blood. The front of the booklet has a photograph of a naked young girl that presents her in a way that is half sexualized, half innocent. There is just one piece of text this time, "A white room with white curtains hides the face of a sleeping child, barely a child, barely asleep, leaving nothing but an image, the sky's double, to rediscover one's innocence."

All of this is mere packaging -- a name, some images, some words, but they prime the listener for the experience of the music, for understanding what this recording is all about. And what it is all about is that painful moment between innocence and experience, that blood-filled time where the world cracks and reforms itself, when a line has been or is being crossed. The music itself is achingly beautiful -- the first track, "In the Temple of Hadjarim" sets a hypnotic mood for the rest of the album, with the sensual piano playing of Jamie Saft wrapped up in the atmospheric strings of Mark Feldman, Erik Friedlander, and Greg Cohen. By the second track, things have turned discordant, aided by Fred Frith, Dave Lombardo, and Bill Laswell. Indeed, the list of talented musicians on this project is enormous, which lends itself both to quality and diversity of sound. This is not a piece of classical movements; rather, it is like a film with constantly changing scenes. Before the end of the album, images are evoked of slow, metered tribal ritual, escape on an open road, cabaret, desert and dance. This is one of Zorn's most complex and beautiful pieces, showing that he is still constantly evolving as a composer.

Catalog: TZ 7325 (Tzadik)
Album Overview on Allmusic
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John Zorn - IAO (2002)

| Avant-Garde | Experimental | Avant-Classical |
| Minimalist
| Death Metal |

This album, a studio suite, is wrapped in mysticism. The four cards that serve as a booklet feature cabalistic signs, esoteric diagrams, a quote from Alaister Crowley and a dedication to esoteric filmmaker Kenneth Anger. A short note by John Zorn establishing a parallel between the tools and craft of musical composition and magic is the only given explanation. The aura of mystery invites an analysis of the constituents and structures of the work, for better or worse -- and in any case it's fun to do on your own, so this reviewer will not expose his personal conclusions on the subject.

The musicians involved are Cyro Baptista, Jennifer Charles, Greg Cohen, Beth Hatton, Bill Laswell, Rebecca Moore, Mike Patton, Jim Pugliese, and Jamie Saft. They appear only one, two or three at a time. Each of the seven movements is based on a specific, non-reoccurring instrumentation, and explores a form of meditation, trance or anything possibly leading to spiritual revelation. "Invocation" is a delicate piece based on organ drones, while the 13-minute "Sex Magick" takes the form of a tribal percussion mantra. The piano melody in "Sacred Rites of the Left Hand Path" provides the most soothing moments and together with the first track is reminiscent of the level of writing found in Duras. "Lucifer Rising" is made of overdubbed sensual female vocals, while "Leviathan" serves up an ear-splitting slab of death metal (which can be a source of trance too, you know). "Mysteries" completes the circle with electric piano and light percussion. "Leviathan" aside, I.A.O. makes a calm, enjoyable listen and beyond its mystical claims, it includes some strong compositions.

Catalog: TZ 7338 (Tzadik)
Album Overview on Allmusic
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Friday, July 23, 2010

John Zorn - Music Romance Vol.1: Music For Children (1998)

| Avant-Garde | Experimental Rock | Jazzcore |
| Avant-Classical |
Experimental | Electro-Acoustic |

There has never been a CD quite like Music For Children. The first installment of Zorn’s challenging and controversial Music Romance trilogy (that includes Taboo and Exile and The Gift) it is easily one of the most eclectic CDs ever made. The Music Romance trilogy is a kind of ecletic mixture of unusual genres for the lovers of music in all its mutations.

The music in the first volume includes three short Torture Garden compositions performed by Zorn with the scorching hardcore band Prelapse; a soulful piece of Masada exotica; a virtuosic classical chamber piece for violin, piano and percussion; a poly-rhythmic etude for voice and percussion and a charming nostalgic lullaby for music box. The highlight of this re-release is a revised version of Zorn's infamously epic ear-bender Cycles du Nord, which takes on new intensity through overdubbed bass drums and a newly recorded noise guitar track by none other than the master of feedback himself—Lou Reed! Intensely intriguing, Music For Children is an unbelievable musical roller coast ride that takes you from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again in sixty jam-packed minutes.

Catalog: TZ 7321b (Tzadik)
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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gorguts - Obscura (1998)

| Technical Death Metal | Avant-Metal |

What's in a name? In the case of "Gorguts," not much -- at least by this stage in the game -- save for some preconceptions about what a band with "gore" and "guts" in its name should sound like. Obscura comes much closer to the mark, as this is simply one of the most challenging, difficult albums ever released within the metal genre. In terms of its towering complexity and unprecedented strangeness, Obscura has a lot more in common with Captain Beefheart's avant-rock monstrosity Trout Mask Replica than it does the latest Cannibal Corpse release. Not that Obscura isn't recognizably metal -- the guitar distortion, the double-bass drumming, and the blasting snare beats are all firmly rooted in death metal. What makes this album different is exactly how far Gorguts pushes this death metal foundation. The guitar/bass harmonies are extremely discordant, the guitar leads are full of alien harmonic squeals and other foreign noises (the title track, for example, features a recurring, legitimately atonal melody played via fingertapping), and the drums change tempos and time signatures in spastic, whiplash-inducing fashion. Frontman Luc Lemay's vocals are not standard death metal fare, either: he sounds like he's being put through a torture session, gasping and wheezing as he screams at the top of his lungs. The most agonizing track is the near ten-minute "Clouded," which crawls at a Melvins/Swans pace and has absolutely guttural bass playing to go along with the aforementioned dissonant guitars and painful vocals. As ugly and off-putting as Obscura may initially seem, though, it possesses an underlying sense of logic and structure that does reveal itself upon repeat listens. A number of memorable, if strange, guitar melodies emerge throughout the album and help provide a sense of order and thematic unity amidst the apparent chaos; "Earthly Love" and "Nostalgia" are especially strong examples of this. Obscura's appeal may not ultimately reach far beyond an underground niche audience, but those with the patience and curiosity to tackle this record will be rewarded with a work of great depth and vision.

Catalog: 008 633 129-2 (Olympic)
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Naked City - Grand Guignol (1992)

| Avant-Garde | Jazzcore | Experimental Rock |
| Avant-Classical |

"Unlike some of Naked City's other albums, this could hardly be qualified as a rock or jazz album. In the liner notes Zorn talks about how humanity has a dark side, symbolized by the Grand Guignol, a Parisian theatre that "served up torture, incest, blood lust, insanity, mutilation and death to generations of fervid spectators." The album is Zorn's exploration of our fascination with evil.

The album opens with a series of eloquent and sinister classical pieces. The first, Zorn's "Grand Guignol" is a series of avant-garde vignettes, drums and tortured guitars against a backdrop of silence. It is similar to "American Pyscho" on Radio, except it lacks the cultural references to rock and pop. The rest of the pieces drift along, subtle and dark classical covers performed by a rock quintet. Frisell's eloquent reverby guitar is used to good effect here, as is Fred Frith's use of the volume pedal to float his electric bass in and out of the song. This is some of the most understated and beautiful playing Naked City has ever done.

They are sharply contrasted by the onslaught of tracks 9-41. These tracks make up the other half of Torture Garden, the first half released on Naked City's debut album. They are a brutal, in your face assault of genres augmented by Yamatsuka Eye's ferocious screams, yells and grunts. The material is, in a word, insanity.

This is one of my favorite Naked City albums. It is both dark and contemplative and upbeat and disturbing. This album should appeal to anyone interested in new ways of structuring music who doesn't mind some pretty insane sound. It should also appeal to anyone who enjoys thrash or hardcore music.

PS: This is the remastered version of the album, which includes "Grand Guignol (Vocal Version)", with awesome vocals by the genius Mike Patton!

Catalog: Avan 002 (Avant)
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Monday, July 12, 2010

John Zorn - Rituals (2005)

| Avant-Garde | Contemporary Classical |
| Experimental |

Owls, Windmachines, Gravedigging and Ritual Magick, Zorn’s strange and mystical monodrama for mezzo soprano and ten instruments is presented here in a beautiful new studio recording. Composed for the Bayreuth Opera Festival in 1998, the Rituals premiere was a bit of a scandal, with the audience split down the middle…half outraged detractors, stomping out, whistling and jeering and half cheering supporters. Performed here by a stellar group of Zorn regulars and some very special guests, Rituals is opera at its virtuosic and intimate best. Five movements of magic and alchemy from the crucible of an uncompromising and unpredictable musical maverick.

This album is a total YES, from beginning to end. The music, full of druidism and wizardry, is another of Zorn's classical compositions exploring the magic of sound. This one is less dark and frightening than Magick, yet it goes way further on the path; having ten instruments and opera singers makes Rituals a completely new statement in Zorn's catalogue. The "rituals" are five short pieces, from 7 to 4 minutes. They are little melodic, since they will is to deep-explore the magic connection between each instrument's sound (instead of simply "connecting" them). Yet, the compositions here are really stunning. In a certain way, if Magick was black magic, Rituals is druid's alchemy!

Catalog: TZ 8011 (Tzadik)
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John Zorn - Redbird (1995)

| Avant-Garde | Contemporary Classical |
| Chamber Jazz
| Minimalist | Experimental Ambient |

A kinder and gentler Zorn, exploring a sound world not unlike those pioneered by composers Giacinto Scelsi, Morton Feldman and Olivier Messiaen. Acoustic, minimal/ambient music of unusual subtlety and beauty, inspired by, and dedicated to the work of artist Agnes Martin. "Redbird," a hypnotic work for harp, violin, cello and percussion mirrors the detailed and complex painting for which it is named, as a series of chords are ordered and reordered, creating a play of memory and surprise that will leave the listener in a sensual reverie. It's difficult to believe that "Dark River" for four bass drums is actually acoustic music; the interplay of sonorities reminds one more of tape manipulation or the electronic beating of underwater sonar.

Both pieces are extremely minimalist, as the work of Agnes Martin itself. Yet, the simple arrangements retain an extremely hipnotic power. Once the album is on, time seems to shrink as imagination gives its way through thoughts against the music - and when you least expect, 50min of minimalist classical music has just pass through like it was only 10. The album atmosphere is pretty dark, even though its form is gentle and passionate. Redbird is, doubtelessly, one of Zorn's most remarkable works ever. Completely recommended!

Catalog: TZ 7008
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John Zorn - Magick (2004)

| Avant-Garde | Contemporary Classical |
| Experimental |

Further explorations into the worlds of Magick and Alchemy, here featuring the long awaited premiere recording of Zorn's new string quartet. Necronomicon is a transcendent five movement work of unparalleled ensemble virtuosity and formal beauty, brilliantly played by the Crowley Quartet. Also included is an astounding piece of witchcraft and sorcery for two bass clarinets, one of the most difficult yet written for the instrument, performed with passion and precision by two of the greatest players in the world.

Necronomicon is probably my favourite classical work by Zorn. Terrifying strings running in despair and horror, contrasting in both fast and wild arrangements and calm, moody pieces. The work is always dark, but not in a standard way. It's not like an evil night with nightmares, it's more like entering a medieval world full of them. The front cover expresses well either the state of horror and the black wizardry of Necronomicon. It's so damn amazing! Sortilège, the final piece (for two bass clarinets), mostly retains the same atmosphere. It basically sounds like a Necronomicon played on wind instruments. Both pieces don't retain a melodic path, they are more headed to explore each instrument's sound and the magical connection between them.

Catalog: TZ 8006 (Tzadik)
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Friday, July 9, 2010

John Zorn - The Circle Maker (1998)

| Avant-Classical | Chamber Jazz | Post-Bop |
| Jazz Fusion |

This two-disc release captures beautiful and refined music that makes full use of two ensembles' extraordinary musicianship. Drawing from John Zorn's Masada songbook are the Masada String Trio and the Bar Kokhba Sextet. Each ensemble fills one CD with beautiful chamber jazz woven around a heart of Jewish melodies. Zorn skeptics will find the superb and elegant music on The Circle Maker surprisingly stable and accessible. This is a fitting successor to the other Masada works that Zorn doesn't actually perform on — the first Masada chamber project, Bar Kokhba, and Film Works, Vol. 8, whose recording session wrapped up weeks before this weekend date of December 1997. Issachar is the name of the disc on which bassist Greg Cohen, cellist Erik Friedlander, and violinist Mark Feldman perform. Zevulun features the Bar Kokhba Sextet: the Masada String Trio plus drummer Joey Baron, percussionist Cyro Baptista, and guitarist Marc Ribot. All of these musicians are accomplished in jazz and improvised music, and have performed extensively in world and/or classical settings as well. The Circle Maker is a very necessary recording for all appreciators of chamber jazz, new Jewish music, or any of these stellar musicians.

The first disc - Isaachar, featuring Masada String Trio - is my favourite on the set. It resembles a lot the Masada quartet works, with the rhythmic session (bass) and two soloists (violin and cello). It's also one of Zorn's best works ever; the emotion captured by the string arrangements and the sharp-edge improvisation makes this disc a beautiful collection of jazz tunes, flirting with classical and jewish music. Chamber Jazz never sounded so tasty!

Zevulun, disc two, is a little bit weaker. It has more variety, with moments hitting close to Fusion and Surf Jazz, but it doesn't capture the emotional power of the first disc. It also differs a lot from the Masada quartet sound; having a guitar and double percussion on the band gives a totally new tonality to the Masada book tunes. Zevulun is a great disc, in its own way - it just doesn't catch up with the awesomeness of the Isaachar.

Catalog: TZ 7122 (Tzadik)
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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Naked City - Absinthe (1993)

| Avant-Garde | Dark Ambient | Musique Concrète |
| Experimental Rock |

Naked City saved the best for last, and the darkest. After they had barrel-rolled through avant-rock, jazz, grindcore, cartoon music, contemporary classical, film music, drone doom, gritty free improvisation and much more, they decided to release their strangest album, Absinthe. A concept album about the drink of the same name, the song names reference various places, people, and things that have to do with Absinthe. I imagine the music is supposed to represent a really bad night in a dark cathedral after drinking a whole lotta Absinthe, and this cathedral is full of Hans Bellmer's deformed dolls, hiding in every corner.

Onto the music. The first track, Val de Travers, shows you exactly what Absinthe is about: it starts of with some disgustingly dissonant chords strummed on an de-tuned guitar (which appears throughout the album). Soon some strange electronic and percussive sounds come in and add to the terror. Une Corresponance is a different beast. You hear machine-like noise repeated in a pattern, with some variations. It repeats for awhile then it all stops and this high-pitched horn-like instrument comes in (not sax) and seems like the most vicious battle cry you would ever hear, it's one of the most scariest moments on the album. Again the album goes in a different direction with La Fee Verte. There is ambiance, water sounds, sampled vocal drones, strange sounds, and a melodic-in-a-darkly-dissonant-way guitar part, implying the music is all composed. All the while there's a steady beat in the distance, which sounds like somebody hitting their knees or something. Fleurs du Mal is really low, and you have to turn the volume up to hear it. This is the most genius point in the album. it's just this droning low pitch... so you turn your volume up, and finally the song is over and suddenly the next song, Artemisia Absinthium, blasts into your ears, a loud, high pitched noise, what sounds like strange insect noises and machinery. The whole song is like this, and is some of the most frightening music you will hear. Notre Dame de L'Oubli is a nice break from the rest of the album, being darkly melodic, and sounding similar to the classical pieces on Grand Guignol, just darker.

Finally we have Verlaine. Part one starts out with a repeated electronic part, with strange percussion behind it, and some neat piano that leads into THE most terror-inducing music I have ever heard: here John Zorn himself provides disturbing high pitched singing that sounds more Basilisk than human, while these female vocal samples phase in and out. The tones are so extremely dark, as the voices, that it is extremely affective, and literally makes me shiver with true fear. The song goes onto a sorta funky beat with a sorta funky bass, and completely un-funky discordant guitar strums. Part two, La Bleue, continues the ambience of Notre Dame de L'Oubli, just more dark sounding. Then, ...Rend Fou, the last moment of Naked City: six minutes of weird electronic static noise, which is actually Frisell and Frith running their guitar jacks over their guitar inputs. What a way to end Naked City.

Catalog: Avan 004 (Avant)
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Monday, July 5, 2010

John Zorn - Dictée/Liber Novus (2010)

| Avant-Garde | Experimental | Electronic | Jazz |
| Musique Concrète | Ambient |

Radical in both conception and execution, Zorn’s studio compositions are among his most personal and unique creations. Owing as much to film as to any musical model, these evocative postmodern tone poems have been described as cinema for your ears. This CD presents two exciting new pieces. The first, Dictée, is a ritualistic homage to Korean/American writer and conceptual artist Theresa Hak-Kyung Cha, whose brilliant work about loss, memory, language and identity is finally receiving due respect. The second piece, Liber Novus is a mythic psychodrama inspired by the legendary Red Book of Carl Jung; scored for keyboards, percussion and sound effects, this is truly Zorn at his best. Two outrageous, intense and poetically beautiful pieces filled with dynamic moments of sonic drama and experimental lyricism on one CD.

Catalog: TZ
7382 (Tzadik)
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Saturday, July 3, 2010

John Zorn - The Goddess - Music for the Ancient of Days (2010)

| Cool Jazz | Avant-Classical |

Hey, look, John Zorn just released another masterpiece! What a surprise, how many has he released already this year, last year, and every year before it? You'd have to know exactly how many albums he's released to know that.

Anyways, the Goddess is the third in a series of piano trio albums Zorn's been releasing, the first two being Alhambra Love Songs and In Search of the Mirculous. Miraculous blew Alhambra out of water, and the Goddess does the same to Miraculous. Now we have our good friend Marc Ribot on guitar, doing his signature reverb-drenched playing style, and it definitely adds to the Alhambra Trio's sound. Stylistically the rhythms are more complex then on the first two albums, and the melodies are sort of a balance between the exotic sound of Alhambra and the mystical sound of Miraculous. Anyone who liked the two first albums, the Rain Horse, or generally any of Zorn's "soft" music will totally dig this!

Catalog: TZ 7383 (Tzadik)
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Ìncubi - Les Catacombes Mortes (2010)

| Avant-Garde | Dark Ambient | Noise| Electronic |

In mid-2009, I- John Wight -recorded a dark ambient album named Weltzraghassor. It was my first proper "dark ambient" release, inspired by the film Eraserhead. It was a big step at the time, and had strong Lychian atmospheres, but there were some major flaws. Basically, Les Catacombes Mortes is a completely new creation, yet it fixes all of the flaws of Weltzraghassor and incorporates new sounds and ideas.

The best way to describe this album would be noisy, discordant dark ambient with screeching electronics. It is obvious from the get-go that it is influenced by Naked City's Absinthe. The themes of the music are grotesque living puppets, dark cathedrals and catacombs, industrial wastelands, and surreal atmospheric chaos.

Catalog: VB-28 (Velvet Blue Records)
On Lastfm
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John Zorn - Six Litanies for Heliogabalus (2007)

| Avant-Garde | Noise Rock | Avant-Metal |
| Experimental Rock |

In 2006, John Zorn issued two recordings that were the first two volumes in the realization of a project that, as he put it in his notes to the second volume, a methodology "combining the hypnotic intensity of ritual (composition) the spontaneity of magic (improvisation) in a modern musical format (rock)." Those two efforts, Moonchild and Astronome, used the same trio: vocalist Mike Patton, bassist Trevor Dunn, and drummer Joey Baron. Zorn supervised and produced both discs; he conducted them as well. In the third edition of this project -- which is dedicated as the others were to French poet and dramatist Antonin Artaud, magician and occult philosopher Aleister Crowley, and composer Edgard Varèse -- Zorn ups the musical ante: in addition to the aforementioned musicians, he includes himself on alto saxophone, Jamie Saft on organ, and Ikue Mori on electronics. As if this weren't exotic enough, Zorn also utilizes a chorus consisting of Abby Fischer, Kirsten Sollek and Martha Cluver. Clocking in at 44-and-a-half minutes, these six pieces are the boldest, most exotic, and perhaps most extreme in the entire envelope thus far.

The expansion of textures grants many new possibilities, but it also requires more order and discipline (of which Zorn has plenty). These pieces contain plenty of improvisation, particularly by Patton who is, in his own way, more extreme than Yamantaka Eye of the Boredoms, (the latter collaborated with Zorn in Naked City, Pain Killer, and other projects), but it is the structuring of these "litanies" that is most compelling. The dynamics from piece to piece shift and transform themselves into something other than sheer range and force; they move not merely from loud to soft and back, but through all the gray areas in between, without necessarily doing so in a discernible order. There is a logic at work here, one that may or may not be mathematical, but it is not merely chaos and rock & roll force either. This is music equal parts classical, heavy metal, hardcore thrash, free jazz, and structured improvisation simultaneously.

The mapping out of this remarkable work is no better served than in "Litany III," where the slow drift of Saft's organ, Patton's most extreme hyperactive inhuman noise-making, Dunn's burning metallic basslines that threaten your bass cones, and silence are all woven into whispered and chanted voices, electronic ambient sounds and noises, samples, and Zorn's skronking alto playing different roles in erecting what amounts to a burning pyre of music, an offering of sound that will not be bound by either convention or mere construction, but pushes by its very design at Zorn's own limits of compositions. These elements either coexist side by side in the mash-up, or are revealed as solos or as an entire ensemble. The order of determination is difficult to discern, and makes for a burning, wicked good time in listening. "Litany I V" is a completely solo vocal work in which Patton displays just how extreme he can be -- all with a pronounced rhythmic intensity and flair. Likewise, that rhythmic thing, as opposed to the space in "Litany III," is revealed to funky grand design on "Litany V," with Baron and Dunn playing point, counterpoint, and overdrive until Saft and the chorus emerge in the middle rather suddenly. Then all bets are off: the rhythmic orgy begins but with Zorn soloing over the top. Yet these are mere examples in a work that cannot either be defined in conventional ways, or taken apart from the work as a whole. In this way, Six Litanies for Heliogabalus is a crowning achievement in this series so far because it doesn't allow the ensemble to dictate the part of the individual within it, yet neither does it allow the individual to create something apart from the ensemble -- even in "Litany IV." Patton's solo is dictated by what came before, and is responsible for what immediately follows. The next work in this project is entitled "The Crucible." It certainly has a lot to live up to.

Catalog: TZ 7361 (Tzadik)
Album Overview on Allmusic

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